Breakfast Burritos

Breakfast Burritos – Suzan Lemont

“Par-lay voo cess pool?”

“Sarge, don’t teach her that crap!”

“Como tally foot locker?”

“Sarge I mean it!!”

She twirls happily around the kitchen in a pink tutu, a real live princess. “How do you say I’m hungry?” “Un hambugger en freet.” Squeals of delight sounding more like a baby pig than a princess. “Un, duh, twah…” she happily chants, becoming dizzy and a little nauseous too. He lights a Camel non-filter, crinkles leprechaun eyes in a quick wink, flashes a pointy-toothed grin. She’s bubbling with happiness like a carbonated spring but pee is threatening to bubble out of her too. She’s afraid to leave the room, sure all that glee and sparkle will evaporate into thin air in the minute she’ll be gone. She squeezes her pelvic floor muscles together as hard as she can, ignores the spot of wetness in her panties, continues the carnival of almost-frenzied singing until she thinks she’ll shatter into a billion stars, all over the kitchen. “You spoil her too much; who’s gonna understand a three year old who speaks French?”

**********

Fingers curled around hard metal edge, smooth glass side pressed hard to chest, arms crossed over each other forming what she thinks an escape-free cradle, she sleeps with his picture each night.   In the dark, too many things become possible and the future seems like a gigantic buzzing rock that will suck her bones and memories like light into a black hole. One fat, errant tear after another slides sideways out of her squeezed-shut eyes until a puddle of them has collected in one ear and her jaw aches with holding it in so no one can hear. One morning she sees that the glass is broken; just a thin spider-web or two across his uniform and the Indian nose, but the next night someone, (she’s sure it’s not the toothfairy though she has no proof), takes it away. She doesn’t ever see it again.

*******

She stands in the lunch line which is wending its way out the doors of the gray stone building where she spends her days trying to fit in, red lunch ticket in hand, head on hiatus from incessant chattering monkeys who usually live there. The next thing she can remember is being at the lunchticket-puncher’s table and her’s has gone AWOL. It seems that the buzzing rock has begun its stealthy claim on her memory; she has no idea how she got the 100 meters from outside to in.

Another day begins upstairs in her pink-shag-carpeted bedroom reading and ends downstairs in the kitchen drinking hot chocolate; another of those puzzling black gaps in the space between. There is furtive talk of brain tumors, a visit to a place named after sandwich spread (her twin-cousins laughing through their terror at “Mayo Clinic”), murmurings of contacting the Red Cross. “Will he get to come home?” she queries. No one bothers to answer but it’s her mother and grandma who spend the night in the hotel room in between the brain scans and all the other tests they perform. She passes everything with “flying colors”; they’re completely stumped about the blackouts. She doesn’t tell them about the buzzing rock and the nightmares of dead children and his picture and being engulfed in a tsunami of sorrow. And they never ask.

*******

The continental drift has been in effect for years, pushing away, not grinding towards, so that now she is left on one side with a pick-ax and a lot of rope, wondering how she will ever manage to close this ever-widening distance. She calls, yells, screams to the other side but he doesn’t hear. He’s in the Orient and she is in a wasteland of dis-orient-ation, which has a more familiar name but still feels hostile and dangerous. She daydreams, writes poems about nameless children left behind to die in a war they don’t understand, has long discussions with ghost-like figures, makes plans for being happy again. She’s pretty sure all her plans will fail – she is, after all, only nine and fairly powerless, magic rocks from the driveway notwithstanding…

**********

He is haloed, for a golden autumn moment in the doorway of their bubble-gum pink house, come to deliver them from the monsters who live under the yawning floor furnace grate, come to play airplane and wrestling games, come to put the glass pieces back together into a smooth, safe surface which will not cut her hands or disappear in the night. Or… it’s an illusion and he only seemed to be there but after the dream there was a paper that said ‘DIVORCE’ which meant they would live with her all the time. She was confused, they lived with her all the time already because he was on that far away continent having a war; could they ever have lived in the war with him (before the paper)? No one had ever said that was an option, because she might have gone for it, even with the empty-eyed children haunting her nights.

**********

She lies under the gold and white canopy bed of her most trite princess dreams, listening to the night sounds and wondering if it’s OK to go to sleep. There’s no lock on the door and sometimes bad things happen when you can’t lock your door. Will that be different now she lives with him? It stays quiet all night and she is relieved to be still alone in the morning, with nothing more than a few faded dream characters for company. Maybe she can be a princess after all. She doesn’t have to worry about the dead children and the continents drifting so far apart that they can’t see each other anymore.

**********

The doctor says it’s just a sprained arm, nothing broken. “How did that happen?” he wants to know. “Playing football,” she dutifully reports. “With who?” “Neighborhood boys,” she shrugs. Her crown has slipped; he’s not pleased. “You’re too old to play football with boys. Don’t do it again.” She protests with all the pluckiness she can muster without incurring punishment (she absolutely cannot sleep without her radio) that fifteen is NOT too old but his opinion does not shift or alter an iota. She waits until he’s gone to work during the hazy summer days, and swears the boys to secrecy so she can still be their wide receiver. She can run faster than any of them, and she convinces herself that what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him. She’d give anything to make that belief a truth.

**********

She finds him downstairs, sprawled on the floor in front of the stereo (not the prized one in the wooden cabinet he had custom-made in the Orient, that one was forfeited in the divorce), earphones askew on his head, wetness that looks suspiciously like tears on his face. A knife pricks a hidden part of her, her chest squeezed so hard she can barely breathe. She touches him on the shoulder, helps him to his feet and up the stairs to his room though with all of her being she wishes she could run back to her princess room and just pretend she didn’t see. She brings him coffee in the morning, the way he likes it: extra cream and two sugars. They don’t talk about it, his pain or hers, even when it happens again and the time after that. But it stays like a searing hot and slightly tainted cord between them – invisible. Neither one seems to have the golden shears and she for one is tired of the pain that comes from cut cords and drifting continents.

**********

On the gurney, before they wheel him into the exorcism of the blight, freckles popping out like measles on his pasty-white face, he looks in turn at each of them. He shakes each boy’s hand in a manly gesture of strength she’s sure he doesn’t completely feel; none of them cry in an obvious way. She leans down, more obviously distressed, snot filling her nose and kisses him. In his gruff, hoarse throat he says, “We gotta get you right with God…” She turns partly to stone, almost flinches at his words. “God and I are doing fine Sarge, don’t you worry,” she murmers.

**********

The message comes at 17:30 hours on New Year’s Eve. They are in the south of Spain, her belly swollen with a baby girl who seems to know what rebellious Indian spirit means. They fling stuff into suitcases, drive too fast along twisting, precariously-carved roads to arrive minutes after the last plane has left for anywhere that would bring her within reach of viewing his body; to any place where she can say goodbye. She sits in the toilet stall at the tiny airport, rocking back and forth like she used to do on long trips in the car, hugging her misery close to her heart, wracked with sobs, with guilt, with dammed up sadness while her Indian-princess daughter submits her protests into her abdominal wall.

**********

She opens the fridge and sees a package of vegetarian sausage, some cheddar cheese, a bunch of fresh cilantro and taco sauce from last week’s Mexican dinner. In the bread box is a pack of flour tortillas. She hears a voice, very close by: “You can’t make ‘em right; you ain’t got no Jimmy Dean sausage and who ever heard of that green crap on there? Them Mexicans’d be turning in their graves if they saw what you were thinkin’ of doin’ to my recipe. Hell, I’M turnin’ in my grave!” One fat errant tear overspills her lower left eyelid. She lets it roll all the way down to her chin and drip off to the floor. Without wiping her face off she smiles and calls to her family, scattered like carelessly thrown dice across the living room: “Hey! Who wants some breakfast burritos? My dad used to make them all the time but I haven’t had any in years… And who wants to know how to count in French? Un, duh, twah…”

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~ by suzanlemont on June 21, 2015.

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